Thursday, June 23, 2011

The New Look

Collections:  Lately their has been a lot of interest in the clothing styles of the 20th century.  Particularly in the realm of couture.  Many museums have been investing money in the launch of several block buster shows around this art form and actively collecting contemporary examples while they are still available.  When Christian Dior launched his collection of 1947, it was dubbed the "New Look".  Was it really?  Designers usually look back to the past for inspiration.  Hoping to interpret it in a new and contemporary context.
Dior admitted that his inspiration for his full skirts, rounded shoulders and small waists came from his childhood memories of his Edwardian mother.
"Aimant", 1956

Seven layers of pink tulle and taffeta with black Chantilly lace.  
Collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum

My Edwardian Recreation

Perhaps success can be all about timing.  The post war years demanded an escape from both the Great Depression and the past six years of world conflict. While his evening wear was evocative of the past, new stiffer materials generated a different silhouette free of the mechanics of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Personally, I think that his real genius lay in his interpretation of the suit.  A form that had been so much a staple of the utility dressing of the 1940's, in his hands it was elevated to a new level.  Suitable for day and evening wear alike.

"Oblique" 1950

It could be argued that Dior only picked up in 1947 where pre-war designers had left off.  Once again, Hartnell comes to mind.  When the newly crowned royal couple embarked on a state tour of France, Hartnell was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth, later referred to as "The Queen Mother", to create her wardrobe.  One stipulation, she was still in mourning for the late King George V and the colours chosen for her wardrobe had to reflect this.  (Black, white or Lilac were traditional) It is said that Hartnell studied earlier royal portraits, many by the mid 19th century painter Winterhalter, for his inspiration.  The collection, all in white, was a huge success!

Another time.  Could this really be 1937-38?
From a special exhibition last year in the Queen's Gallery, London

At Versailles

Recollections:  I remember the dress below from my childhood.  My father had taken me to the Royal Ontario Museum to see, what else, the mummies and the dinosaurs.  As we climbed the grand staircase at the second landing, I caught sight of the gown below.  It marked the entrance to the costume and textile galleries of the 1960's installations.  We passed by, but this dress, which was worn by Queen Elizabeth II, still stands out in my memory.  Satin appliqued with green velvet maple leaves.  Funny how clothing can do this.  Time, place, event.  Whether your own reality or not, it evokes so much.
Hartnell, Maple Leaf Dress

                                                     Collection of the Royal Ontario Museum

Ambitions:  I would love to own a Dior some day, but chances are, I will have to make a copy.

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